On the road again
Fundraising begins to replace nearly 20-year-old vehicle
In February, a semi truck hauling hogs crashed into another semi trailer hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline near Jefferson. The resulting inferno caught a pickup truck on fire.
As the Region V Hazardous Materials Response Team rushed to the accident, the truck’s brakes began to fail.
“In February when we went to Jefferson, we had a problem with the brake system. It was happening on the way there, and when we got there, the air brakes were all locked up,” said Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter. “We had a leak in the system.”
The Hazmat team is headquartered out of Fort Dodge, but responds to, and is funded by, a nine-county region. To safely and quickly respond to that region, Hazmat will now begin fundraising for a new truck.
In Jefferson, the Hazmat team helped the local fire departments putting out the fire, and were there to help clean up the gasoline spill, as well as a diesel leak from the other semi.
It’s also been to Duncombe recently to shut down a chlorine leak at the town’s water plant.
When the team is rushing off to address a crisis, there’s no time for mechanical breakdowns.
“It’s very frustrating when you’re trying to respond to an emergency and it breaks down, or while you’re at an emergency it breaks down,” Hergenreter said. “We’ve had several incidents where it had a mechanical failure, and we had to go to plan b or plan c — take the equipment off it and have a pickup truck come from the fire department. Not ideal.
“That is very frustrating for the people trying to respond, and for the people waiting for us to get there too.”
The new truck is a big investment.
It will be built by Toyne Fire Apparatus, of Breda, the same company that built the newest fire engine for the Fort Dodge Fire Department. Likely cost is around $625,000, said Webster County Supervisor Merrill Leffler, who is chair of the Hazmat Foundation and represents Webster County on the Region V board.
The new truck will be designed specifically for Region V’s needs.
“We have specific equipment for ammonia leaks, for propane leaks, chlorine leaks,” Hergenreter said. “The things we see in our nine counties of Region V, so when we designed it we made it able to carry the equipment we need.”
The truck will also discard some features of the current truck that are no longer needed, so there’s more room for things the responders do need.
“The other one has a large office area,” Hergenreter said. “When it was designed was before the world of electronics, so we had a lot of books to do research on chemicals.”
The truck had bookcases and a weather station, providing information that Hergenreter can now just pull up on his phone. It also had a lab area for testing chemicals, which can be done more quickly using electronics today.
One thing the old truck doesn’t have is an air compressor to run the Hazmat team’s tools. When working around explosive gases, the team uses various air-powered tools instead of electric ones that might create a spark.
“Right now we use our breathing apparatus,” Hergenreter said. “We have to use our air pack bottles with a regulator to run those tools. Whenever we use those tools, say we’re in Pocahontas using the tools and the bottles go empty, then the Pokey firefighters have to take them back to their fire station and fill them, and we’re sitting around waiting until they bring them back. This one will have the air compressor.
“That will be a huge change for us. It will speed our on-scene time up tremendously. And then we can use the air bottles for what they are used for.”
With no office, the new truck will have a larger changing area. The chemical protective suits are plastic, and get harder to put on when they are out in the cold.
“Eight months out of the year it’s kind of chilly in Iowa. It’s nice to be able to get out of the weather to do that,” Hergenreter said.
At nearly 20 years old, the truck just isn’t reliable any more.
“If you have a car that’s 20 years old, it’s going to start breaking down,” Hergenreter said.
To get the new truck, the Hazmat team will pursue fundraising through the Hazmat Foundation, a 501c3 foundation set up for just this circumstance, Leffler said. Donations to the foundation are tax deductible.
“Our plan is to start with companies who are apt to use this service. They’re called Tier 2 companies,” Leffler said. “There’s a little over 150 companies in our nine-county area that are Tier 2, that have chemicals that could use the service. I came up with 382 sites these guys have to be able to respond to in those nine counties, that house some kind of chemicals.
“So we’re going to start with those companies, going to those and soliciting donations from them, and then we’ll expand it to other organizations and whatever-it-may-be-foundations and casinos and even individuals.”
The companies in the region have been generous in the past, he said, and are actively involved in the Hazmat group.
“It’s a really good partnership.”
Quick response is needed at times to keep people safe, but also because the faster the team can get there, the faster a road can be cleared or a company can begin regular production.
“If it’s at a chemical plant, the faster we can get in there and mitigate the release, the faster they can get production going. We had an incident at a chemical plant, they needed us to get in there and open and close a couple different valves within a very short time or it was going to cause major disruption to their entire plant and process,” Hergenreter said. “I don’t know what they would have done if they didn’t have a hazmat team that could get there really quick.”
Hazmat’s budget pays for the day-to-day operations, Leffler said, for training and equipment.
“The budget just doesn’t allow us to get to a new truck,” he said. “We have over the last few years saved up roughly $75,000 to put towards a new truck. So for our $625,000 truck we’ll be going out trying to raise $550,000.
“It would take us 10 more years at least to try to do it through our budget. That’s why it’s important that we set up the foundation and try to get donations.”
Fundraising should start within 30 days, Leffler said, and he hopes it will be about a six-month campaign.
“It’s about a year process,” Hergenreter said. “Once we sign a contract, it’s about a year process to order the chassis, get the chassis in, and then for them to build the box and install the box.”
“The general public I think doesn’t realize the amount of chemicals and potential hazards we have out there,” Leffler said. “We have so much propane and so much anhydrous around here, people just don’t realize. Your ethanol plants, railroads, everything. … You think we’re in the middle of green-growing Iowa, but it’s a little more hazardous. That’s why it’s important to have a good Hazmat team and good equipment for them.”